When Italy launched her ill-advised, ill-executed attack upon Greece in November, 1940, the most immediate and concrete military result was the British occupation of Crete at the invitation of the Greek Government. In this long, mountainous island, nearly blocking the entrance of the Aegean Sea and seemingly easy to defend, Britain secured a highly valuable naval and air base. From Crete her forces of sea and air were able for the time being to render nearly innocuous the Italian positions in the Dodecanese, to give powerful aid to the Greeks in Albania and, broadly speaking, to tighten her hold on the Eastern Mediterranean and on the vital link in her life line, the Suez Canal. It may be that in the titanic struggle raging in the Levant the possession of Crete, which the British have unhappily been forced to relinquish, will be held by the future military historian to be decisive in the result.
Whatever the outcome may be, it will not be the first time that Crete has played a spectacular role in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean. The island was the seat of the first great thalassocracy, or command of the sea, in history under Minos; and later, in the days of Caesar and Pompey, it harbored a race of piratical seamen which for nearly a decade defied the Roman power. It was not until the ninth century, A.D., however, that a series of happenings, more or less accidental, gave to Crete, then an outwork of the Byzyantine Empire, a position and a power which influenced the whole course of European history.
The Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire—New Rome—which arose in the East around Constantinople as a nucleus, inherited the Roman traditions and was a prolongation on a somewhat reduced scale of Imperial Rome on the Tiber. Standing as a mighty bulwark against floods of oriental barbarism, it saved from destruction the remnants of Graeco-Roman, Christian civilization.
The mightiest of the early assaults against New Rome were made by the Arabs or Saracens in the seventh and eighth centuries. Stimulated by the religious ideas of Mahomet and lured by the lust of plunder, the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula poured forth wave after wave of warriors that conquered lands as far east as India and as far west as Spain. Though the outlying provinces of the Byzantine Empire—Syria, Egypt, and North Africa—were swept away in these assaults, the heart and center of the Empire stood firm against two of the mightiest attacks in military history, the Saracen sieges of Constantinople in the years 673-78 and in 717. The crushing defeat of the Moslem hordes in the latter year by the Emperor Leo the Isaurian gained the Empire a long period of security and a new lease of life.
In the defense of New Rome against the Saracens, as well as against prior assailants, sea power played a decisive role. The command of the sea which Leo the Isaurian boldly and valiantly snatched from the enemy gave mobility to his forces and enabled him to defeat vastly superior numbers. Conversely, the neglect of sea power was largely responsible for the later misfortunes of the Empire.
While the Byzantine Empire possessed in the Greek seamen of the Aegean and the Black Sea a superb and inexhaustible naval personnel, while it owned in abundance all of the material elements of a great naval power such as countless fine harbors, timber, and naval supplies, its rulers, with several notable exceptions, showed the same traditional cavalier attitude, almost aversion, to their fleet that had characterized the naval policy of their predecessors of Old Rome. Not until the ninth century was a distinct Imperial fleet created; the Byzantine emperors had hitherto depended upon the separately organized, local squadrons of the naval themes, or provinces, and upon requisitioning and conversion in time of need of privately owned merchant ships. Partly from the exhaustion of their strength in land warfare, yet more often from blindness and indifference, the lords of New Rome failed for the most part to make good use of the great potential sea power which nature and inherited skill had placed at their disposal. They neglected to build up a navy which might have secured their supremacy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In the conquered Byzantine provinces of Syria, Egypt, and North Africa, the Saracens likewise found ample materials for a naval power—abundant timber, excellent harbors, and a seafaring population, the descendants of the seamen of ancient Phoenicia, Egypt, and Carthage. After overcoming the first natural terror of a desert people for the water, the Saracens established a naval service with the forced aid of their Christian subjects and soon showed the same fanatic energy and courage on the sea which they had proved in their battles on land.
That such auxiliaries were not always reliable was shown on several occasions, notably during the second siege of Constantinople when Christian crews in the Moslem fleet deserted to Leo. However, with the moslemization of the peoples bordering on the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, this handicap to the Saracen naval service disappeared. As the maritime peoples of the Levant and the North African coasts became thoroughly Mohammedan, they entered with zest into the naval, or rather piratical, enterprises of their new masters, inspired not only by the fire of religious fanaticism but still more by the lust of plunder that the old Greek and Roman lands still yielded to enterprising and organized piracy. There thus commenced that succession of Mohammedan raids, terrible and almost incessant, which continued to harass nearly every Christian shore of the Mediterranean and beyond it during the Middle Ages and, to a lesser extent, even down to the third decade of the nineteenth century.
For more than a century after their great repulse from Constantinople in 717, however, the Saracens made no effectual efforts to challenge the Byzantine Navy. The fleet of New Rome, though not developed by Leo the Isaurian and his immediate successors—who based their power on the land forces of Asia Minor—was able nevertheless to protect the outlying and insular possessions of the Empire and, of even more importance, its profitable commerce with the West. The Saracen Navy declined during the civil wars between the Ommiads and the Abbassides; and when, in 746, an expedition sailed from Alexandria to reduce the island of Cyprus, it was blockaded in the port of Cerameia by the Byzantine Fleet of the Cibyrrhaeot Theme, and only three Moslem vessels escaped. There was considerable naval revival under the famous Caliph Harun al Rashid, whose sea forces ravaged Cyprus and Rhodes and defeated the Cibyrrhaeot fleet; but not until well into the ninth century did the great era of Saracen sea activity begin.
In 825, a band of Saracen political exiles from the Western Caliphate of Spain, who had taken refuge in Egypt, conducted a successful raid on Crete and returned to Alexandria with cargoes of Christian captives and rich booty. The next year these pirates, having obtained permission from the Caliph Mamum to leave Egypt and win for themselves a permanent settlement within the Byzantine Empire, set sail in an expedition of 40 ships, again descended upon Crete, and conquered it from end to end. Two expeditions sent from Constantinople by the Emperor Michael the Amorian failed to regain the island, and though a third expedition dislodged the pirates from some small Aegean isles and dispersed their squadrons for a time, the Saracens remained in possession of Crete, where they constructed a gigantic fortress named Chandak from which Candia, the alternate modern name of Crete, takes its rise.
Crete now became an outpost of the Eastern Caliphate in its warfare with New Rome. For 135 years the island was ruled by Moslem corsair chiefs whose depredations spread misery and ruin over the islands and coasts of the Aegean and constituted a serious danger to the Byzantine Empire in its constantly recurring periods of civil strife. From its strategic position lying across the mouth of the Aegean, Crete also became in the hands of the Saracens a continual menace to Byzantine commerce with the West, in whose defense the utmost efforts of the Imperial fleet were necessary.
The best description of the ravages of the Cretan pirates is given by the French historian Schlumberger who focuses the accounts of diverse Byzantine chroniclers:
For more than 130 years the Arabs and their plundering Emirs maintained their hold on Crete, to the awful despair of the constantly ravaged populations of the Archipelago and the Greek and Asiatic coasts of the Aegean. Chandak had become the immense capital of Saracen pirates over the whole Mediterranean Sea, a gigantic den of thieves through which flowed the treasures of the East, the market of Christian slaves to which flocked for fresh supplies the purveyors of the harems throughout the Mohammedan world. Continually re-enforced by adventurers from every corner of Islam, the Arabs of Crete in this impregnable place—an advance sentry which the Saracen lands to the south hemmed round like a protecting girdle—without running great risks themselves, were the most terrible foes of the Empire. Every spring, like a monstrous war machine, Crete vomited forth its fleet of innumerable blacksailed craft, light and marvellously swift, which foamed away in all directions, burning cities, sweeping away terror-stricken populations, vanishing with the spoils and the people of an entire city before the Imperial troops, always overtasked, could come up.
The shocking story of these occurrences retold with a terrible sameness may be read in the chronicles of the 9th and 10th centuries. A few hours were often sufficient for these amazing corsairs possessing incomparable swiftness, audacity, and precision, to convert a thriving Byzantine town into a smoking solitude. Detachments of the Imperial fleet in vain cruised constantly through the Archipelago, the Dodecanese or Region of the Twelve Isles, as the Byzantines called them; they always arrived too late and could only report a new and irreparable disaster; a burned and deserted town, the enemy gone, the sea clear of sails; but some days later the bazaars of Chandak were filled with an immense booty, its port could not hold the Saracen feluccas, the African barks swarming with slave dealers from Syria and Egypt; and in the public square, under the open sky, interminable rows of captives, youths, maidens, children of all ages—for the old and useless people had previously been killed—waited destitute, dulled by despair and their horrible sufferings in the foul galleys, until their masters had finished portioning them off to be led away in bonds to the farthest bourns of Moslem lands, to the shores of Basra, or to the cataracts of the Nile, into the burning wastes of Hedjaz or to the distant coasts of Andalusia.
The Cretan sea power for some years, indeed, eclipsed that of the Empire and probably almost completely shut off Byzantine trade with the West. Many of the Aegean islands, finding Imperial protection inadequate, were forced to purchase immunity by paying a regular tribute to the pirate chiefs of Chandak.
So terrible were the ravages and so imminent the peril to New Rome from the Cretan pirates that the prosperity, the security, almost the very life of the Empire depended upon the reconquest of Crete. Whatever increase in Byzantine naval efficiency and activity occurred in the years 825-959, all too often sporadic and ineffectual, appears to have been induced by the loss of Crete.
It required, however, the most terrible disasters to call forth spiritual and material preparation requisite to achieve success. In 904, a pirate fleet from Crete of 54 large galleys filled with ferocious Syrians, Arabs, Africans, and commanded by a renegade Christian named Leo of Tripolis, surprised and captured Salonica, the second commercial port of the Empire. The Moslems held the city for ten days, subjected it to a thorough looting, and then, loading their vessels and the shipping of the port with an incalculable plunder and 22,000 captives, they retired to Crete. The Byzantine Navy, led by cowardly and incapable officers, had all this time lain idle in the Hellespont.
Forced by this disaster to pay more attention to his navy, the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI, surnamed the Wise, reorganized it and placed in command the brave Admiral Himerios, who won a considerable naval victory over the Cretans in 907. But the same commander, having assembled a powerful fleet for an attack on Crete in 911, was totally defeated off Samos by a great Saracen armament of 300 vessels commanded by Leo of Tripolis and another renegade, Damien of Tyre. The Byzantine galleys were sunk, taken, or scattered, and Himerios himself with difficulty escaped into the harbor of Mytilene.
Not until a decade and a half later did the Byzantine fleet reorganization bear good fruit. In 926, it had so recovered its morale that under the Patrician Johannes Radenos it gained a complete victory in the harbor of Lemnos over the Cretan Navy commanded by the same Leo of Tripolis. Every Saracen galley in this battle was burned, sunk, or taken except the one in which the pirate admiral escaped. The Byzantine naval superiority was re-established in the Aegean, and the pirate power of Crete was kept in a state of semi-blockade.
A resounding naval victory over the Russians in the Bosporus at the end of the reign of the sailor Emperor Romanus Lacapenos presaged the more important triumphs that were to follow. The Byzantine fleet strongly held the sea and pursued an aggressive policy. A large Saracen armada was surprised by a much smaller Byzantine fleet in the port of Tarsus and completely destroyed.
The climax of the sea history of the period, however, was the reconquest of Crete. Since its capture by the Saracens in 825 at least six attempts, abortive or disastrous, had been made to retake it; expedition after expedition had been completely frustrated. Even in its weakened state, after the Byzantine victory of 926, Cretan sea power was a menace to the security of the Empire and Imperial commerce. Its very existence was a challenge to every vigorous and ambitious emperor who mounted the throne of Constantine the Great.
In 956, a large expedition under the command of a time-serving courtier and eunuch named Constantine Gongyles was dispatched to Crete and a powerful army landed on its shores. But the fatuous, unskilled leader failed to take ordinary military precautions, and the troops were surprised and all but annihilated in their unfortified camp by a night attack of the Saracens. Crete must have seemed the Nemesis of Byzantine fortune.
With remarkable persistence, the Byzantine Government some four years later equipped another and greater expedition to conquer the island "accursed of God." They now had the wisdom to choose for leader a veritable man and the greatest commander of the Empire. Nicephorus Phocas, who was named for the difficult task and who was soon to mount the Imperial throne, was sprung of a long line of military nobles of Cappadocia and had been trained in the hard school of warfare on the Saracen frontier of Asia Minor. With the great physical and mental strength and the rugged character of an ancient Roman, he united a spirit of fervent piety and religious mysticism which were characteristic of his age and country. A man of tremendous passions ordinarily held in iron control, he was preternaturally brave and cool in battle, aggressive, farseeing, and resourceful. Devotedly loved by his troops, he was just, yet unpityingly severe in his discipline, and though never wantonly cruel he was capable of revolting cruelty for the maintenance of discipline or for the attainment of a military object.
Though primarily a soldier in training and experience, he certainly possessed some knowledge of sea warfare the commanded the counsel and the services of the best naval officers of the Empire.
The armament which Nicephorus led against Crete was undoubtedly the largest, the best equipped and the most formidable of the many overseas expeditions that New Rome had sent forth. More than 300 dromons of the largest size served as transports for the army or as carriers of supplies and military equipment. These vessels were convoyed by hundreds, perhaps more than 1,000 galleys, most of them lighter craft known as chelandia, each equipped with tubes for spurting Greek fire and manned not only with sailors and oarsmen but with strong bodies of marines for fighting either afloat or ashore. The seamen were drawn chiefly from the maritime commercial cities of Asia Minor and the Aegean Archipelago. The land forces were recruited from nearly all the European and Asiatic provinces of the Empire and included strong bodies of Scandinavian, Armenian, and Russian mercenaries as well as a few adventurers from Venice and Amalfi. We have no definite information as to the total number of the personnel, but they can scarcely have fallen short of 250,000 men of all branches of the naval and military services. The entire naval strength of the Empire and a mighty army were collected for a supreme effort against an enemy that had repeatedly threatened and might again threaten to strangle the State.
The great armament, or a large portion of it, weighed anchor at an early hour on July 1, 960. The Emperor, the Imperial court, vast multitudes of people of all classes gazed from the palaces and villas, the walls, the gardens, and the public places of Constantinople and of Chalcedon across the Straits, as the almost countless galleys crowded with men-at-arms, gay with painted hulls, gilded prows, and multicolored sails, with streamers and huge banners picturing the Savior, the Holy Virgin, and the warrior saints, passed slowly from the Golden Horn and down the Bosporus, dipping myriads of oars and plowing shoals of silvery foam from out the clear blue of the water. The prolonged, confused din of the multitude on shore and of the host at sea, swelling and growing in a diversified roar, was suddenly, almost miraculously hushed; amid an awe-inspiring silence the Patriarch of Constantinople arose and blessed the fleet; then at a signal from the Emperor, an immense, pious acclamation of "Godspeed" burst from the people as the crowd of ships pressed from the Bosporus and spread into the Sea of Marmora.
Sailing rapidly across that landlocked sea and down the Hellespont, the galleys debouched into the Aegean and turned their prows to the south. On account of its vast numbers, the fleet now proceeded in relays of large separate detachments. A string of naval stations—Hera-clea, Preconnessus, Tenedos, Mytilene, Chios, Naxos, Nio, Thera—within easy sailing distance of one another and stocked with supplies of every sort welcomed and refreshed the expedition on its voyage of approximately 600 miles between Constantinople and Crete. At Phygeles, on the coast of Asia Minor between Chios and Samos, the scattered detachments of the fleet reunited and were augmented by some lesser squadrons.
Nicephorus now moved against his objective swiftly yet with great circumspection. Even before the fleet was completely reassembled he had dispatched a squadron of his fleetest scout ships with orders to make a flying descent upon Crete, to carry off a number of its inhabitants, and to learn from them the state of affairs in the island. This stroke was successfully executed; definite information was obtained and brought to Nicephorus that the news of the approach of the expedition had just reached the island, that great excitement and panic reigned among the Saracen population, and that the Emir of Crete and his officers were taking measures to put the towns on the coast in a state of defense. Not a day was to be lost by the Byzantines if they were to profit by striking a timely blow.
The assembled armament again weighed anchor, and piloted by sailors of the isle of Carpathos stood in a body across the sea to the northern coast of Crete. Though the heights off which the fleet appeared were strongly held by masses of white-clad Saracen infantry and cavalry, Nicephorus ordered an immediate landing to be made. Under cover of a barrage of missiles from the archers and slingers, the shallower draught vessels were pushed close along shore; the side-hatches of the galleys suddenly opened; broad, heavy gangplanks were let fall; and throngs of armored horsemen dashed from the ships to the shore. Screened by these cuirassiers, the bulk of the army landed rapidly and in good order.
The Byzantine heavy-armed infantry now drew up in three dense formations, holding their bucklers close in front and presenting an unbroken hedge of projecting spears. Preceded by a fire of arrows and darts, and singing the "Hymn to the Victorious Virgin," they advanced resolutely against the Saracens on the heights, who in turn deluged them with a reign of missiles or sought in fierce charges to break through their phalanxes. There was a long, desperate, bloody struggle, but the Byzantines maintained their lines intact and pushing up the slopes at length succeeded in dislodging the Saracens from the heights and scattering them in wild rout over the country where the cavalry pursued and slaughtered great numbers.
Having established his land base, Nicephorus set about the conquest of the island with great thoroughness and consummate judgment. Though a land warrior by profession, he showed by his first measures an understanding of the importance of sea power. Orders were given to the commanders of the several detachments of the fleet to take positions at various strategic points off the coast of Crete, whence a fairly effective blockade of the entire island could be established. Nicephorus realized that unless the Mohammedans of Syria, Africa, and distant Spain could be prevented from sending important reinforcements and supplies to their coreligionists in the island, his great enterprise would probably be in vain.
With his control of the sea as secure as overpowering force and human watchfulness could make it, Nicephorus proceeded with his army methodically to cleanse Crete of the noxious human vermin that infested it. That this was no easy task soon became evident. For, as the Byzantine Army deployed over the luxuriant, semitropical island, a strong detachment was ambushed and cut to pieces. This check decided Nicephorus to attack the chief pirate lair at once. His great host accordingly marched across the island, leaving a swath of smoking villages and blackened fields behind it, and took up its position before the Saracen capital.
Chandak was immensely strong, being built on the flat top of a high, rocky promontory protected on two sides by the sea and backed on its landward face by steep bluffs. A girdle of high, stout walls flanked by double moats of great depth and breadth crowned and strengthened an almost unassailable natural position.
Realizing that the fortress with its numerous warlike population was impregnable to ordinary assault, Nicephorus made his arrangements for a long blockade and regular siege operations. While his fleet held the sea and shut out aid from outside, his engineers and infantry commenced digging an immensely long entrenchment surmounted by a rampart whose two ends reached down to the sea and enveloped the entire landward front of the Saracen fortifications. The blockade of Chandak was thus complete, and with a strongly fortified camp established at a distance of three stades from the city the Byzantine Army was practically assured against a surprise attack of the besieged. At the same time Nicephorus sent out strong flying columns which scoured the island in every direction, hunting down and dispersing armed bands, pursuing Saracen fugitives into the forests and mountains, and spreading terror and destruction among the entire Moslem population of Crete.
Though famine soon raised its head in the beleaguered fortress-city, the pirates fought on with demoniac energy. There were furious combats in the interior of the island and desperate sorties from Chandak, often costly to the besiegers; yet the Byzantine soldiers invariably asserted their superiority, keeping the foe shut up in the fortress and trampling down all resistance in the island. By orders of Nicephorus, the reward of a small silver coin was given for the head of every Saracen warrior slain by a Byzantine. An immense number of these ghastly trophies were brought into the camp, where they were affixed to spears and held up all along the Byzantine lines in view of the besieged. Hundreds of bloody heads were also hurled from catapults over the walls and into the streets of Chandak. Such was the frightfulness which a commander of the tenth century thought necessary to use as a weapon of warfare to break the enemy's morale.
All this while the Byzantine fleet, resting upon secure harbor bases, blockaded tirelessly and effectively. Very little aid succeeded in reaching the island from the Moslems of Syria and Egypt, and few attempts were made to run the blockade. Even before the Byzantines reached the island, the Emir of Crete, Abd-El-Aziz, had dispatched envoys in swift ships to implore aid of the Moslem rulers of the Barbary coast and of Spain. The Caliph, Abd-Ar-Rahman III, of Spain, responded at once by sending officers to ascertain the exact state of affairs in Crete. These emissaries reached the island when it was half conquered and Chandak was closely blockaded by land and sea. Nevertheless, by taking advantage of a dark night, they succeeded in landing at the base of the sea walls of the fortress, which they entered by mounting rope ladders let down from above. A brief survey apprised them of the critical situation of the besieged. In spite of the tears and prayers of Abd-El-Aziz and his followers, the officers at the time of their departure refused to promise assistance; returning speedily to Spain they reported to their master that the Byzantine fleet by reason of its great numbers and its excellent fortified bases made access by sea unsafe, if not impracticable, and that the Byzantine army, because of its numbers, its courage, and the skill of its general, was invincible—in short, that a relief expedition would be hopeless and certain to result in disaster. On receiving this information, Abd-Ar-Rahman abandoned the Cretan pirates to their fate.
Though despairing of succor from their co religionists, and though defeated in numerous sorties, the defenders of Chandak prolonged their resistance throughout the year 960 and for several months into 961. A premature attack by the Byzantines in the first open days of the winter was bloodily repulsed; but on May 7 the final assault was launched. Several large breaches had been made in the walls by the siege engines of Nicephorus, and after intensive preparations, both of a material and of a moral and religious character, the Byzantine army hurled itself against the gaping, ruined battlements whose defenders were now weak and many of them literally dying of starvation. Fresh breaches were effected during this assault by the shocks of an immense battering-ram; the walls were also undermined in places by the Byzantine engineers, who were protected by a deluge of arrows and darts and by the discharge of Greek fire from high wooden towers which the assailants advanced alongside and overtopping the walls. A barrage of large rocks from the catapults and ballistae, as well as a rain of lesser missiles, killed or drove most of the defenders from the walls. When finally two great towers of the battlements collapsed in crumbling masses and filled up the moats, the Byzantine troops poured through the ruined apertures and into the city irresistibly, triumphantly.
Some of the Saracens continued to resist desperately, and a hideous, indiscriminate massacre commenced in the narrow streets, which was stopped, though with difficulty, by the commands and the presence of Nicephorus. The remnant of the pirate population which submitted were spared their lives but reduced en masse to bondage.
The booty from the place was incalculable and exceeded all expectations. For 135 years Chandak had been the depositary of wealth plundered from scores of cities and communities of the islands and coasts of the Aegean and from a vast number of Byzantine ships. A large part of this spoil was now returned to the nation, though not to the individuals, from whom it had been taken. The choicest slaves and the richest treasure were reserved for the Emperor; the city and all that it contained were then delivered over to the Byzantine soldiery to sack. Many a common soldier and sailor became wealthy beyond his dreams from the plunder that the place yielded.
While satisfying the greed of his men, Nicephorus lost no time in settling the reconquered maritime province. The walls of Chandak were razed, the moats filled in, and a mighty citadel was built on a neighboring height to take the place of the destroyed fortress. A fortified naval station was constructed to serve squadrons of galleys equipped with Greek fire tubes, which guarded the entrances of the Aegean. At the same time Nicephorus re-established the Imperial administration over the island. Preparations were made for the coming of numerous Greek and Armenian colonists; and steps were taken for the reconversion to Christianity of the original Greek inhabitants of the island on whom the Mohammedan religion had been imposed.
Great were the rejoicing and celebrations in Constantinople, and great was the relief among the maritime populations of the Empire, when the news of the fall of Chandak and the complete destruction of the Moslem power in Crete was known. When, after ordering affairs in Crete and leaving a strong garrison and numerous pyrophoric galleys to hold the island, Nicephorus returned with the bulk of his fleet and army to the Bosporus, a mighty welcome and a splendid triumph were accorded him in the Grand Circus of Constantinople. There, amid wild acclamations, the spoils of his conquest—great measures of gold and silver and precious gems, bales of lustrous silk, priceless brocades and tapestries, long files of camels and Arabian horses, a multitude of white-robed captives in chains—were displayed to the admiring multitude and led in procession before the Imperial tribune. The captive Emir, Abd-El-Aziz, was forced to abase himself before the Emperor and in symbol of his complete downfall submitted to the impress of the Imperial foot upon his neck.
Though the Cretan expedition was a combined naval and military expedition, though accounts of battles, ambuscades, and skirmishes on land, of siege operations, of plunder and pompous triumph abound much more copiously in the historical narratives than the details of naval operations, yet the enterprise as a whole was distinctively naval in character and was a tremendous triumph of sea power. It is patent that it could not have been prosecuted successfully without the factor of Byzantine control of the sea. It would be difficult to find a better instance of what Mahan called the "silent pressure" of sea power. No naval combats whatsoever are recorded in accounts of the expedition. By a quiet yet supreme assertion of their naval might the Byzantines were able to annihilate all opposition at sea without impact of arms;they could thus freely wield their great military strength to wrest from their enemies the Gibraltar of the Eastern Mediterranean and to strike a decisive blow for the control of the sea in their centuries-old struggle with the Saracens.
Great and durable, indeed, were the results for New Rome and for Europe that accrued from this tremendous military achievement of Nicephorus. By its definite reconquest, Crete ceased to be a destructive thorn in the vitals of the Empire but became a buckler of defense against the Saracens of Asia and Africa, a convenient station of the Empire for sending out maritime expeditions to the south and west. The Byzantine Empire, in consequence, became and remained for fully a century the supreme naval power of the Eastern Mediterranean. The vain title of "Autocrat of the Mediterranean Sea," assumed earlier by the Emperor Constantine Porphrygenitus, was now in some measure justified to his successors. The Moslem sea power was everywhere repressed, and Byzantine naval might and influence were felt in every land bordering on the Mediterranean. "I alone possess a strong naval power," said Nicephorus to the envoy of the German Emperor, Otto I:"your master has no ships, but I am mighty at sea and could, with my fleet, burn everyone of the coast cities belonging to him, if I chose."
The commercial and cultural results were probably even more important than the political. With Crete again in the possession of the Empire, the Aegean with its great trading and seafaring population was freed for many decades from the scourge of Moslem piracy. Byzantine trade flourished as never before and made its influence felt in every quarter of the Mediterranean. The cities of the Archipelago were alive with activity and prosperity, and fleets of merchant ships passed continually through the gates of the Aegean, guarded by the fortress of Crete, and carried the products of the Empire and Graeco-Roman culture and civilization to the semi-barbaric peoples of the West.
Under the aegis of the Byzantine sea power, the Italian City States of Naples, Amalfi, Gaeta, Pisa, Genoa, and particularly Venice, commenced at this time their remarkable commercial and naval expansion, which made feasible the Crusades and which was also one of the chief means in the dissemination of classical civilization. The Navy of Venice, it is true, was to be the bane of the Byzantine Empire in the thirteenth century. Yet for centuries after the downfall of New Rome, the Venetian fleet was one of the staunchest bulwarks of Mediterranean Europe against the destructive sea power of the Ottoman Turks.
Crete never again fell in to the hands ofthe Saracens. It remained Byzantine for more than 240 years. When the Empire in 1204 was assaulted and dismembered by the warriors of the so-called Fourth Crusade, Crete fell to the lot of the Marquis Boniface of Montferrat, who presently sold it to the Republic of Venice. The latter restored the old Saracen fortress of Chandak or Candia, by which the capital and the entire island became known. The Venetians held possession of the island for more than 4t centuries until in 1669 Candia I after a record-breaking siege of over 20 years, was taken by the Ottoman Turks. After 2 ½ centuries of Turkish and Egyptian misrule and a short term of government under the supervision of the Great Powers, Crete became an integralpart of Greece in 1913. As this article was finished, the island suddenly became the scene of the most spectacular air-naval-land fighting in history, in which the remnants of the free Greek nation and the embattled forces of the British Empire were driven heroically fighting from this key bastion of the Eastern Mediterranean.